TAMPA — In character, they may appear to the unknowing as foreboding creatures from outer space.
But in reality, they are earthlings with gargantuan hearts for good causes and hospital-ridden children.
More specifically, they — who when dressed in costume represent a mix of Marvel action hero figures — are members of the Central Florida Chapter of Heroes Alliance.
The nonprofit organization got its start in the Tampa Bay area in 2005 and has since expanded into multiple chapters throughout the East Coast and beyond.
Members voluntarily make appearances at charity events and visit sick kids in hospitals. Their primary purpose is to bring superheroes to life in the eyes of youngsters and adults alike.
Mike O’Toole, of Temple Terrace, who since the early ’80s has collected Marvel action hero figures, said he got involved because it also helps him remain a kid at heart.
“But, like all of us, I basically do it for the kids,” said O’Toole, 42, a father of four. “Seeing the joy on their faces at All Children’s Hospital is priceless.”
His benefit/visitation costume of choice is Iron Man, a Marvel Comics superhero created by Stan Lee. His character first appeared in “Tales of Suspense” in 1963 and has been adapted for several other animated films and TV shows — as well as a string of hit movies starring Robert Downey Jr.
Clearwater Heroes Alliance member Doug Moody, 51, has a variety of superhero outfits he’s dressed in through the years. His most recent attire is Thor, another Marvel Comics character and protagonist of a 2011 movie of the same name.
Moody is known to pray prior to visiting sick children.
“There was a child with inoperable brain cancer I went to see,” said Moody, also a father of four. “I gave him a picture of me as Thor and I told him, ‘My prayers are with you.’”
Club member Zack Hurst, 40, of Clearwater, another father of four, said because of his affection for superheroes, he hasn’t experienced the typical generation gap with his kids. In fact, when they were younger he delighted in dressing in costume and entertaining them and their friends at their birthday parties.
His character of choice these days is also Iron Man.
“There is nothing that can compare to making magic a reality, especially for sick kids,” Hurst said.
In addition to suiting up and appearing at various events and hospitals throughout the area, each of them spends a considerable amount of time and money designing, purchasing materials for and assembling their costumes.
Hurst, who works as a property manager for a storage facility, spent $1,100 on his Iron Man costume and logged about 750 hours planning and putting it together.
Moody said he strives to make all of his costumes as authentic as possible. In lieu of a less expensive material, he uses leather for parts he wants to look real. He first does a rough sketch of what he wants them to look like and then painstakingly designs each piece to scale.
“I was always told if you are going to do something, do it right,” said Moody, who noted he also designs his costumes so they can be adjusted for comfort.
O’Toole’s wife, Linda, said her husband’s hobby is time consuming, but when he’s involved in it she has an opportunity to catch up on her reading.
Hurst’s wife, Christina, said she fully supports her husband’s hobby and often helps him get in and out of his costumes and accompanies him as his guide.
“Zack loves fantasy and science fiction and doing anything he can to help other people,” she said.
For additional information, visit their Facebook pages or www.Heroes Alliance.org.